FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

Let's go ninja!The next two weeks will feature articles that are aggravatingly autobiographical as part of Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s). I realize I’m not too conservative with the ol’ autobiographical moments on a good day (hey, this is my blog), but I feel these stories need to be told before I wrap up the FGC project (in another hundred articles, gotta plan ahead), and, well, if you can’t indulge yourself, then who else can you indulge?

So, fair warning, FGC #551 and #552 are going to be about videogames and friendship, and #553 and #554 are going to be about videogames and love. If you are just here for random videogame musings that aren’t entirely centered on my life experiences (then why are you here!?), we will resume true randomness with #555. I think E. Honda may be involved? I’ll have to check.

And with that caveat out of the way, let’s talk about what I learned in college.

The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is a very special videogame to yours truly. For one thing, I’m rather fond of legends, mystics, and ninja. So we’ve got a clear winner here. For another thing, it was inexplicably one of my few Super Nintendo cartridges back in the early days of the system. It wasn’t a launch game, but it was a game that came along early in the system’s lifespan, and well before I had a handful of JRPGs that were capable of capturing about 40 hours of my life at a time. And I feel I need to remind my presumably adult audience (I use swear words, like “butt”) that, when you are a child with nothing to do, any enjoyable distraction is forced to last for the approximately 40,000,000,000 spare hours you have over the course of the day. In short, I played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja a lot.

WeeeeeBut it wasn’t just about the single player experience in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. TLotMN, like many games of the era, contained a 2-player mode. Unlike many games of that era, however, its two player mode wasn’t a Mario-esque affair where you constantly traded turns back and forth. TLotMN allowed both players to play at both times! Like Contra! These Konami guys are pretty great! So TLotMN got played an awful lot not only by myself, but also in tandem with my next door neighbor and best friend, Jimmy. Final Fight might not have been two-players, but The Legend of the Mystical Ninja was, so we cooperated and did our best to save Ancient Japan from the forces of whatever the hell we were continually hitting with pipes.

Sad truth? We never, ever beat the game.

And, to be clear, this was not a game we played when we were young and hopelessly inept. Yes, back in the NES days, Jimmy and I were but babes, and we were generally about as effective at beating videogames as we were at solving quadratic equations. But by the Super Nintendo era? Brother, we were all-stars! I mean, like, literally, we beat Super Mario All-Stars. We also were able to one-credit stomping all over M. Bison in Street Fighter 2 (on, uh, the easier modes). Yes, by the time we had to grapple with L & R buttons, we were ready to conquer the world. … Just so long as that world didn’t contain The Legend of the Mystical Ninja.

EAT YO-YOAnd, looking back, I don’t exactly blame my younger self (plus guest) for not finishing the game. Yes, there are generous continues, but the password “save” system is one of those final relics of the NES era that needed to lay buried the absolute minute the save battery was invented. And TLotMN demands its players know exactly what to do when. For instance, if you blow all your cash in the arcade in Level 3, you’ll never be able to afford the mandatory travel visa in Level 6 (there’s probably a life lesson there, but I’m mad right now, and not having it). Cool powerups (that are advertised right there on the cover!) require time, money, and effort that continually makes them about as useful as actually trying to solve your problems by riding a tiger. And, yes, this is an early Konami game, so there are a few places where the directors apparently expect you to have Gradius-level reflexes. Yes, playing The Legend of the Mystical Ninja now, as an adult with save states, seems to portray the title as something on the easier side of the Sesame Street 123 – Battletoads scale, but there was a time when this game refused to allow entry to the final level. Beating that giant weeble wobble was just too hard for two children!

Eventually, emulators became available. Eventually, likely out of a misplaced sense of vanity, I conquered The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. But it was a lonely journey. By this time, there wasn’t anyone in my life that was still interested in Super Nintendo games (the N64/Playstation was the new hotness), and it seemed unlikely I would ever rectify the life-long mistake of not having completed TLotMN “the real way” (or at least the real way according to Bubble Bobble). Would I ever again have a friend that wanted to play as Dr. Yang ever again?

Enter: college.

MeowIt’s hard to explain to the youth of today, but, when I was first entering college, there was some weird kind of faux-retro thing going on for the NES/SNES era. To sum it up nicely, one time a number of us sat in the quad staring up into a dorm window while some unknown individual played Punch-Out! with a TV pointed toward his enrapt, outdoor audience. They were pretty good at it! It may have simply been the marketing of the time (I want to say this is right about when Hot Topic started stocking 8-bit Mega Man shirts), but the NES/SNES era was totally “in” when I was first matriculating, so, surely, this was the time to avenge myself upon various games. I was gonna save the princess with a buddy once and for all!

And, yes, gentle reader, I did find a buddy. I found multiple college buddies in fact, as it was apparently a pretty popular job to work odd hours as tech support for the college computer labs, and I was a human being that liked computers and odd hours. I “hung out” with a number of young techs from late at night to the early morning because, hey, that’s just the kind of guy I am (an insomniac, to be precise). And, given there was no authority but these techs in these computer labs, any time except mandated exam time wound up being given over to LAN parties and emulators aplenty. We even hooked a Dreamcast up to a VGA monitor once! It was horrible! But it happened, and someone managed to score a perfect in Soulcalibur against the computer before the screen was even properly operating. In fact, that very person was Jim, obvious spiritual descendant of the earlier mentioned Jimmy, and he and I attempted The Legend of the Mystical Ninja one evening.

It… didn’t go exactly as planned.

We sailed through the first level. That was fine. We were enjoying ourselves, beating up townsfolk, collecting lucky cats, etc. Then we got to the second zone. Contained within the second act is one of the many available minigames in The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We had already tried goblin tossing and paint in the first area, so we decided to hit the faux arcade and play whatever was actively 2-player.

Here it comes

There is a game that is, effectively, Pong. Given it is only available in a 2-player game (there is no CPU opponent available), I jumped on the chance to play this otherwise gated content. Jim probably just wanted to give Pong a try. So, we did.

Get ready

And, since save states aren’t just for cheaters, we were also able to continually “reboot” the minigame anytime we wanted. Thanks to the ability to immediately reload from the top of a game, we technically could play this version of Pong all night.

Now this is happening
Dramatic Recreation

And we did. We played The Legend of the Mystical Ninja Pong from 11 PM until approximately 5 AM. It was nearly the entire shift, and it was entirely Pong.

We never beat The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. We never beat the second level.

And that’s okay.

We had fun playing Pong. We didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish, but we had fun playing a videogame. Acknowledging the simple pronoun difference there is important.

It's hammer timeThough I loath to acknowledge the term, I am a gamer. I play videogames. I beat videogames. Nine times out of ten, if I’m playing a videogame at all, I am playing to win. And it doesn’t matter if I’m battling a human opponent or attempting to steer my protagonist toward some AI final boss: I need to cross that finish line. I need to be the very best, like no one ever was. I have no time for this inconsequential “Pong”, I have to get out there and beat the game!

Except when I don’t. Except when I can just have fun with the game, because it is, ya know, a game. It is made for fun. A videogame is not designed to be beaten, it is created to be enjoyed.

Want to know what I learned in college? It was that life sometimes doesn’t go exactly how you’d expect, but it’s still worth enjoying yourself. Sometimes you save Ancient Japan, and sometimes you play Pong for hours on end. Sometimes what you expect is not what happens, but it can be enjoyable regardless. You can’t control life. You can’t control other people. But you can control what makes you happy.

I also learned you can sneak liquor into the computer lab. But I think I already knew that…

FGC #551 The Legend of the Mystical Ninja

  • System: Super Nintendo. Didn’t it get rereleased on the Wii or WiiU? I think it was WiiU.
  • Number of Players: Did you read the article!? Goddammit!
  • I hate youMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: Didn’t I? Whatever! I’ll talk about it more, then! The Legend of the Mystical Ninja is an extremely weird game in how it mixes 2-D “action” stages with towns that are loaded to the gills with, essentially, distractions. There is very little overlap between rewards you can obtain for painting buildings or hot tubs that restore health and the “real” progression in the plot, but, dammit, it’s fun. Long after I finished with other, more straightforward titles, I returned to The Legend of the Mystical Ninja for random fun and hijinks. Wait, dammit, now I’m veering back into autobiographical territory.
  • Favorite Minigame: I like painting. I feel like this whole “don’t ever go over the line again” thing has appeared in many other games as a minigame, but rarely as, like, a real game. I guess it’s like Snake? But not really? I like this better than Snake.
  • Eternal Trauma: I feel like entering Zone 6, and finally having a required amount of money to progress scarred me for life. I used to be such a happy child, using elixirs and spending money willy nilly, and now I am someone that hoards every last item and gold piece, confident in the idea that the game will require six hundred whositdaddies to advance. I blame Kid Ying.
  • Now I get it: For the record, that giant octopus at the end of Zone 3 is now a little more recognizable. No wonder he is attacking the (apparently eternal) Konami building!
  • More killer clownsLand of the Rising Fun: Yes, this is a game that was radically changed for localization, as it is aggressively Japanese. In the East, you’ve got Ganbare Goemon vaguely based on the historical/nigh-mythical Goemon, and in the West, you’ve got Kid Ying, who is just some marginally shifty dude that lives with a blue weirdo. That said, the game is still pretty damn Japanese, and it’s not like they changed Ancient Edo to be Old York City or something.
  • But they did change riceballs into pizza, right? Yes. Americans are physically incapable of understanding Japanese treats. See also: Ace Attorney, Digimon.
  • Did you know? There’s a “theater” in Zone 3 that features Dr. Yang dancing and farting. For some reason, it was removed from the American release. But! It is still referenced in Nintendo Power, a separate hint book, and the instruction manual. So we were obviously a hair’s width away from Ebisumaru blowing us all away.
  • Would I play again: Hell, why not? I like this game, even when I’m just playing Pong with friends. It is delightful, so The Legend of the Mystical Ninja always has a seat at my table.

What’s next? Recklessly Self-Indulgent Autobiography Week(s) continues with Smarty Pants for the Nintendo Wii! Never heard of it? Well, that’s kind of the point! Please look forward to it!

Pew Pew
This is getting pretty meta

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